Obituary: Rosalind Cash

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The Independent Online
Rosalind Cash, actress: born Atlantic City, New Jersey 31 December 1938; died Los Angeles 31 October 1995.

In his Channel 4 documentary Black Hollywood (1984), the director Howard Johnson made a heart-felt exploration of the effects of racism on black American film actors. Among his most revealing interviewees was Rosalind Cash, who gave an insight into the dilemma faced by black actresses who have talent, but don't want to play stereotypes. She said:

We are so grateful to have a part that often we do roles that aren't us, that are old tired stereotypes we don't even believe in. Then we sit and watch and we are embarrassed to see ourselves. I played a lot of prostitutes very early in my career but as I matured I lost interest in them. I just didn't want to be seen being abused in those nasty, degrading parts. I didn't want to project that image.

After making an impact with the Negro Ensemble Company in New York, Cash departed for Hollywood to appear opposite Charlton Heston in the sci-fi thriller The Omega Man (1971), now a cult classic. Her first appearance in the film is unforgettable. Strong and aggressive, she looked ready to steal the film from under Heston's nose but, sadly, halfway through the film, Cash's drive and force was diluted by the script and director. An opportunity to break away from the traditional Hollywood stereotype of black women, and to present a new type of black movie heroine, was wasted. Nevertheless, at the end of the year, Cash found herself included in Quigley Publications' annual top ten "Stars of Tomorrow" list. She was the first black actress to be named since the list was launched in 1941.

Important leading roles followed in films like the off-beat murder mystery Melinda (1972), and Hickey and Boggs (1972), in which she starred opposite Bill Cosby. In the hit comedy Uptown Saturday Night (1974) she was directed by Sidney Poitier but, after this promising start, Cash found it almost impossible to sustain her film career. She found herself in the same situation as her contemporaries Ruby Dee, Diana Sands and Cicely Tyson. Dramatic roles in American movies did not exist for these highly charged, charismatic black actresses.

Cash fared better with guest appearances in top-rated television shows of the 1970s including Kojak, Police Woman and Starsky and Hutch. She also played O.J. Simpson's wife (Simpson played a police officer, who has an affair with a white colleague) in the made-for-television feature A Killing Affair (1977). In 1978 Cash came to Britain to appear with Glenda Jackson and Oliver Reed in The Class of Miss MacMichael, directed by Silvio Narrizano. In this comedy drama set in an inner-city school for delinquents, Cash gave a sympathetic performance as a caring schoolteacher.

When film offers dried up, Cash continued to make memorable appearances in made-for-television films and two superb performances earned her nominations for NAACP Image Awards. Sister, Sister (1982), written by Maya Angelou, was an emotional drama, co-starring Diahann Carroll and Irene Cara, about three adult sisters who come together to fight, rejoice and reminisce after years of separation. In Go Tell It on the Mountain (1986), based on the novel by James Baldwin, Cash gave an effective performance as Aunt Florence.

In 1987 Cash received the Black American Cinema Society's Phoenix Award, and in 1992 she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Continuing to work in television, she appeared in The Cosby Show (1986), Thirtysomething (1987) and, finally, a recurring role in the daytime soap opera General Hospital.